Seeking God

It is the heart that is important

My Monday tips for my team this time were taken from a talk I’d given on one of my recent Buddhist discussion meetings. It was the concept of: ‘It is the heart that is important’. Happiness (the real, everlasting kind) doesn’t work outside-in; it works inside-out. So we need to work on our inner life state and on ‘polishing our hearts’.

To make it easy to remember, I had divided this concept into five parts, each of which corresponds with a letter in HEART. (A lot of this material is directly from Buddhist literature; I have simplified it.)

H stands for Happiness

Why is that, in the same situation, one person responds vibrantly while another grumbles? It is because happiness is an internal condition, something we feel in our hearts. Happiness is not found in ‘stuff’, nor does it matter how rich and famous you are. There are lots of people who do have these things but are still unhappy. And such external circumstances are changeable and impermanent; no one knows how long they will last. So the aim is to have an ‘unshakeable inner state of happiness’, one that nothing can destroy. One that nobody can violate. That’s what we have to work towards.

Our happiness is our own responsibility. There is no knight in shining armour who will come and hand it to us. We have to work on it every day, bit by bit. Do one thing every day that makes you happy. Spend time on yourself. Contribute to making a better world. Joy is in us; we just need to unleash it.

E is for Eternity

Eternity refers to the Buddhist concept of reincarnation. As Indians, we are all pretty familiar with this ancient theory that says our lives do not end with our current experience of it. Our thoughts, words and deeds are our karma all put together, and as we sow, so we reap. The aim to live life with such faith and joy that even at the time of death, one can say with a heartfelt smile: “What a wonderful life that was! Now, where shall I go next?”

A vast universe exists in our hearts, in our lives. But most of us invest time and effort only on enriching our current material reality, and just not enough on our spiritual practice. I once read a quote by Neale Donald Walsch that said, “Earthly possessions are not what you came here to gather. Do not worry about your earthly possessions. Place your attention on your heavenly goal–the evolution of your soul–and you will find peace even while on earth.”

A is for Attitude

Faith is not just a matter of praying or meditating a certain number of minutes a day. It is also a matter of our heart, or the attitude with which we live every aspect of our lives. The attitude in the depths of our being determines everything. Whether we are happy or wind up in a state of suffering, everything is the exact result of our attitude. What’s in our heart is communicated to the universe.

When we do something, do we approach it with a negative attitude – grumbling, “Oh, not again! I hate this!” – or a positive attitude, telling ourselves brightly, “All right, here’s a fresh opportunity to grow and learn!”?

This subtle difference in attitude can make a huge difference in our lives. It can change things 180 degrees. A proverb says, “Do not complain that the rosebush has thorns but rejoice that the thornbush has roses.” Our perception changes our reality.

R is for Radiance

‘I have decided to shine bright; it does not matter how dark the room is,’ says the candle. When we light up our hearts, we simultaneously light up our families, our societies and the land that we live in. No one is immune to life’s problems. The storms of karma appear in many unexpected ways – as problems at home, at work, with our children and so on. But every time we overcome a challenge, we change our destiny and that of our loved ones. Precisely when things are tough, that’s the time to encourage those around you with a bright smile. If the situation seems hopeless, create hope. Don’t depend on others. Ignite the flame of hope within your own heart.

When our hearts shine like the sun, everything seems to shine brightly. Rather, we can make everything shine. When we ourselves become the sun, all shadows disappear.

T is for Transformation

Until we do not feel a shift within ourselves, we have not progressed, really. Can we look back at our life and say, “Wow, I’ve come a long way”, or do we feel that we’re stuck where we were decades ago? That’s where the concept of transformation comes in. When our life state changes, the world around us changes. There’s a quote by Daisaku Ikeda that goes: “When the fundamental engine of our ‘one mind’ – our inner attitude or resolve – starts running, the gears of all phenomena of the 3000 realms are set into motion. Everything starts to change. We move in a bright and positive direction.” Like a bud blooming into a flower, a seed into a tree, and a caterpillar into a butterfly, transformation is the essence of progress.

H. E. A. R. T. It is the heart that is important.

Seeking God

Giving up on enlightenment

After I’d written this post about a discussion that had come up in my Gita class in the Aurobindo Ashram, my teacher called me on the phone a few days later (he’s just so amazing).

“You must know that your questions in class were very important. Very important,” he began. “Not everyone knows that they do not actually wish for enlightenment and liberation from the cycles of life and death. At least you know that now.”

“I want you to ask yourself two questions,” he went on without beating around the bush. “First, if you do not want enlightenment, then why do you attend Gita classes? Why do you strive for spiritual evolution?” I was silent in response.

“Second,” he went on without a pause, “ask yourself, what is the difference between those who have achieved spiritual liberation and yourself… Buddha, or your Krishna. What makes them enlightened and you not?” He added a few words of encouragement and left me to my pondering.

I really couldn’t answer his questions, either of them. So like a coward, I began avoiding his classes and finally stopped going there altogether.

It’s been over two months.

I’m still hiding.

I’m not just afraid of the answer. I’m afraid of the change it will bring into my life. Just when I’d become comfortable.

Seeking God

Do we really want liberation?

Not many people actually want ‘liberation’, my spiritual teacher said today. “Ask yourself, do you really want nirvana (liberation from the cycles of life and death)? Do you really want detachment from your hundred material pursuits and relationships? Doesn’t liberation sound boring?”

His words struck a chord and I sat up in my seat. “But what is wrong with that? What is wrong with not wanting liberation?”

“Nothing is wrong,” he said. “In fact, my guru once said that people don’t really want God; they just want God’s help in making their worldly existences easier.”

“But again, what is wrong with that? Aren’t our worldly desires and relationships natural and biological?” I pursued. “How can I help being attached to my kids, for instance?”

“True. As Sri Aurobindo said, out of a thousand people, only one person makes an attempt at achieving God. Out of a thousand people who make the attempt, only one actually reaches his or her goal. The question is, are you making an attempt at spiritual liberation?”

“I guess I am not,” I admitted after some thought. “I am happy and content in my worldly existence. But isn’t this a desirable state to be? Aren’t we told to be happy with what we have?”

“Ah ha, today Aekta is finally paying attention in class,” my teacher laughed. “There are four pre-requisites to liberation. (1) You have to have a certain spiritual discontent. So, no, you will achieve no substantial spiritual growth if you stay happy and content in your material existence. (2) You have to believe in a higher power. (3) You have to believe that you are capable of achieving liberation. (4) You have to believe the goal of liberation is worthwhile pursuing.”

I chewed my lips thoughtfully, weighing which of the points I could check off my list. A fellow student teased, “Let her enjoy her material pursuits for now. Isn’t all this ‘giving up’ and ‘detachment’ too much to ask for, Aekta?”

“Well, at least I have learnt where I stand,” I admitted, humbly. “I have learnt that I identify with St Augustine when he said, ‘Dear God, make me good, but not just yet’.”

(He actually said, “Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet.”)

“Well, there are three types of ignorance,” smiled my teacher sagely. “One is simple ignorance. The other is being ignorant about being ignorant. The third is being conscious about being ignorant. At least you’ve reached the third step.”

As the class ended and students filed out, my teacher walked with me to the parking lot. “You don’t have to eat the whole handi (serving bowl) of rice to know what it tastes like. You can taste a bite of it, satisfy yourself, and then move on. A lot of enlightened souls began their journey quite young. The next step is to aspire to aspiration.”

The symbolic meaning of his words stayed with me all evening. Ramakrishna said, “Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” I have come to the startling realisation that my hair is not on fire.

But I can aspire to aspiration.

Will you ignite me, Krishna?